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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Kyiv this morning. He laid a wreath at a cemetery honoring Ukrainian soldiers lost in Ukraine's war.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And it's a war that continues. Shortly before he arrived, Russian cruise missiles targeted the city, though Ukraine says it shot them down. Look south on the map from Kyiv, and you'd see the area where Ukrainian troops are struggling forward in a U.S.-backed counteroffensive.

INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann is in Kyiv. Hey there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why is Blinken there now?

MANN: Well, his big goal is to signal Washington's support for Ukraine, despite questions about the pace of this counteroffensive and the huge cost. Some of that support's going to be tangible. A senior State Department official says Blinken will deliver roughly another billion dollars in new U.S. funding. That includes military, financial and humanitarian aid. And the official said the U.S. also wants to show they're aligned with Ukraine as this war now heads into the fall and winter.

INSKEEP: Are they entirely aligned, though, given some of the tensions around the pace of this counteroffensive?

MANN: Yeah. You know, The Washington Post reported on a U.S. intelligence analysis that it predicted Ukraine likely won't reach its objectives this summer. That includes punching through to Melitopol, a city on the Sea of Azov, as part of an effort to divide Russia's army and cut off their supply lines. Some critics, Steve, say that Ukraine spread their forces too thin, attacking in too many areas along the front line. Ukrainian officials here have pushed back on that. They say they are gaining ground in the face of really strong Russian defenses.

So the State Department official told reporters another goal of this visit will be for Blinken to get a really accurate assessment of what's happening on the ground. And he'll meet with President Zelenskyy today, who, in fact, is just back in Kyiv after heading to the front lines and meeting with soldiers in the south and east.

INSKEEP: Well, why don't you give us our own assessment here? What are you hearing from soldiers and military analysts in Ukraine?

MANN: Well, they do talk about progress around Robotyne in the south. Ukraine appears to have really pushed through the toughest line of Russian minefields, trenches and artillery batteries. They're right now trying to breach the next line of defenses around a town called Verbove. A Ukrainian officer I spoke to was candid, Steve, about how harrowing this is. It's a tough fight. Ukrainians hope that if they can breach these lines, it'll create a bigger opening for them to move more quickly using those Western tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles we've been hearing about. One thing, though - the clock is ticking here. Once the autumn rains set in in the next few weeks, this battlefield is going to turn to mud, and that'll make movement even harder.

INSKEEP: Brian, can you tell us about a development on the other end of Eurasia? We are following these reports that North Korea's leader will get on a train, leave his country for a summit, a meeting where he'll have a chance to talk face to face with Vladimir Putin. What's going on?

MANN: The State Department official who briefed reporters described Putin's effort as scrounging for equipment and said this is another sign of Russia's desperation. And we have seen signs that Russia's military continues to struggle. They've lost a lot of soldiers, and a lot of their best weapons have been used up. A British intelligence report, Steve, this week found Russia's army is now trying to recruit men from neighboring countries to fight.

Ukraine also has a problem with manpower, but Kyiv obviously has much broader international support. Ukrainian media have reported that President Zelenskyy is expected to travel to New York later this month for the U.N. General Assembly meeting, where he's expected to make the case for that support for Ukraine to continue.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks so much.

MANN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Mann.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: As his secretary of state is in Ukraine, President Biden heads to Asia this week. He'll be traveling Thursday, going to India, and then on to Vietnam.

FADEL: Now, both of these countries are China's neighbors. They also have two rising economies at a moment when China's economy is struggling. And Biden will be there in part to focus on countering China's influence. He wants developing nations to more easily find investment and credit without turning to China.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid is with us. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So you'll be traveling along with the president. The first stop is New Delhi, which is not just a Biden visit. It's the G20, the world's 20 largest economies. What's on the agenda?

KHALID: Well, I would say, Steve, also a question here is who is going to be showing up for this agenda. Two big members of this group are not going to be there, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The host here will be Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister. And I'm sure you recall he had a very warm welcome here when he visited Washington recently over the summer - a big state dinner. You know, the Biden administration sees Modi, sees India, really, as a counterweight in the region.

And I will say that even though the G20 has been fractured in recent years with Russia's war in Ukraine and some of the increasing competition between the United States and China, Biden, on this trip, is really attempting to show that the United States remains committed to the G20 and that this administration believes there is still value in international economic cooperation.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, let's talk that through because when you're talking about a meeting of wealthy nations, one question is, how can they help developing nations? Even some of the nations on this list would count as developing nations. What is the president proposing to help them?

KHALID: Well, essentially, the main proposal we hear that he's taking is an effort to build a bigger and better World Bank. You know, in recent decades, Western countries have been backing the bank - have sort of, I think, lost a bit of focus is what I hear on this institution, while China, in the meantime, has made a big push with its own multilateral lending programs and its own bilateral program. I'm sure you know the "One Belt, One Road" initiative. You know, China itself has also become the third-largest player in the World Bank itself.

And so what we hear is that Biden is going to be asking - Biden has already, in fact, asked Congress for $2 billion to put into the World Bank. The White House's assessment is that this would leverage tens of billions of dollars more from other countries in the G20 and that this could really help start beefing up the institution. Here's Rachel Kyte. She was the former envoy for climate change at the World Bank.

RACHEL KYTE: All of that requires the U.S., as the largest shareholder, to take a lead. And I think that's the message that President Biden's going to India with, which is we're accepting our responsibility, and we're going to drive reform.

KHALID: This is a very fine line the U.S. is walking here. They are insisting that they are not targeting China with this proposal, but also saying that this proposal is an alternative to Chinese lending.

INSKEEP: I'm really interested in the next stop on this trip. The president goes to Vietnam, Asma. When the president first went into the United States Senate in the 1970s, Vietnam was an enemy of the United States. It later became something of a friend and a trading partner. So what does the president hope to achieve there?

KHALID: I think this is a really key stop here. The president is intending to deepen economic cooperation. There is an expectation that Vietnam will upgrade its relationship status with the U.S., which, as you mentioned, is key because the U.S. only normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995. At this point, the U.S. has become the largest export market for Vietnamese companies, thanks in large part to the tariffs that were put on Chinese exports under the former president that have remained in effect. And so I think what we'll see on this trip is Biden really trying to engage both India and Vietnam as friends in the region who could be a counterbalance to China.

INSKEEP: NPR's Asma Khalid, thanks so much. Safe travels.

KHALID: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right. The leader of the Proud Boys has been sentenced to the longest prison term for any January 6 defendant.

FADEL: A federal judge in Washington Tuesday sentenced Enrique Tarrio to 22 years in prison. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy in May.

INSKEEP: NPR's Odette Yousef covers domestic extremism and is on the line. Good morning.

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was the judge's reasoning for exactly that sentence - 22 years?

YOUSEF: Well, Judge Timothy Kelly said that Tarrio was the ultimate leader of the group's conspiracy that, quote, "ended up with about 200 men amped up for a battle encircling the Capitol." Kelly noted Tarrio's criminal history, saying that this sentence had to have a deterring effect. And he said that he believed Tarrio qualified for terrorism enhancements to his sentence but ultimately didn't sentence within that range because he said he didn't believe Tarrio had an intent to kill people.

But Tarrio's trial was interesting, Steve, because he wasn't actually in Washington, D.C., on January 6. He was monitoring developments from a hotel room in Baltimore. Prosecutors used his texts, during the trial, to show his role in orchestrating a breach of the Capitol. And before the judge announced the sentence, Tarrio expressed regret for his role. He said he wasn't a political zealot. He acknowledged that Donald Trump lost the election. But Judge Kelly said, quote, "it cannot happen again."

INSKEEP: Where does this leave the Proud Boys?

YOUSEF: Well, the trial effectively has put away leadership of the group. Four of Tarrio's lieutenants were sentenced last week to terms between 10 and 18 years in prison. Four of them, including Tarrio, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. And it really marks a remarkable end to Tarrio's tenure as chairman - national chairman of the Proud Boys.

You know, that group really started as a violent street gang fighting leftists, but it was vaulted into the national consciousness in 2020, when former President Donald Trump declined to disavow the group's violence in a presidential debate with then candidate Joe Biden.

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DONALD TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what.

YOUSEF: And after that, Steve, the Proud Boys became regulars at pro-Trump and Stop The Steal rallies. But the twist here is that despite the prison sentences for Tarrio and other leaders, the organization actually is not weaker today. And, in fact, they're larger in terms of chapters and membership than they were on January 6.

INSKEEP: How have they grown?

YOUSEF: Well, unlike some other paramilitary groups that were involved that day, like the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys adapted. They pivoted away from a centralized national structure, and now they're part of a broader coalition driving the GOP on key issues like LGBTQ rights, limiting inclusive curricula at schools, walking back abortion rights and really promoting disinformation and harassment campaigns at a local level.

One person I spoke with is Cassie Miller at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and she said this is part of a much broader authoritarian movement in the U.S. that the GOP really needs to renounce, and it'll take a whole-of-society approach.

INSKEEP: NPR's Odette Yousef, thanks so much.

YOUSEF: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel
Leila Fadel is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.